Australian Open face being forced to move matches indoors with Melbourne air quality rated as ‘very poor’ amid the bushfire crisis
- Smoke has descended on Melbourne as result of the ongoing Australia bushfires
- The Australian Open is now under threat due to the poor air quality in the city
- Novak Djokovic has expressed his concerns over the potential health risks
Organisers of the forthcoming Australian Open may be prepared to play an unprecedented amount of matches indoors to combat poor air quality if the country’s bushfires persist this month.
With only a week before the qualifying event begins for the season’s first Grand Slam, the game’s authorities have been forced to look at contingency plans if the worst continues to happen.
This includes the potential suspension of matches if conditions become hazardous, as they were yesterday in the Victorian capital.
Melbourne is one of many Australian cities to be struck with poor air quality in recent days
The Australian bushfires have effected visibility in the city and the air has become hazardous
The widespread fires have devastated Australia as the first Grand Slam of the season nears
Organisers of the Australian Open are working on options, including many indoor matches
While some rain fell on affected fire areas, Melbourne itself was blanketed in a smoky haze, and the Environment Protection Authority officially described the air quality as ‘very poor’. The air quality index moved up to 210, which is a level considered ‘very unhealthy’.
Novak Djokovic has been among those who have expressed concerns about health hazards for the opening Major of 2020, whose main draw begins on January 20. Lower ranked players are already arriving to prepare for the qualifying.
Tennis Australia has responded to the crisis by leading a fundraising drive which will include staging exhibition matches and a pop concert, but it is also having to look at alternative options if play is disrupted.
Tennis star Novak Djokovic is the latest to express concerns over the health risks for playing
This includes potentially extended use of the three main arenas which, uniquely, are at their disposal at the Melbourne Park venue which have roofs and a total capacity of 31,500 seats.
The site also has eight indoor practice courts which, while not set up for spectators, could theoretically take the number of protected courts used to eleven in a worst case scenario. If they came to be used it would be the most indoor matches played ever at a Grand Slam.
A Challenger level event this week has already been moved from Canberra to Bendigo in Victoria, but there is currently no intention to reschedule others in the build-up to the main tournament.
‘We have committed substantial extra resources to analysis, monitoring and logistics to ensure the health and safety of all of players, staff and fans throughout the summer and have no other plans to move events,’ said TA Chief Executive Craig Tiley.
‘Assessing the likelihood of smoke-induced interruptions is a bit like how we treat heat and rain. We have experts who analyse all available live data as specific to our sites as possible and consult regularly with tournament officials and, in the case of heat and smoke, medical experts.
‘We have access to real-time monitoring of air quality at all of our venues and are working closely with medical personnel and local experts onsite to ensure we have the best possible information available to make any decisions regarding whether play should be halted at any point.
‘The health of players, fans and staff is a priority at all times and we will continue to make these decisions with that in mind.’
The nearest fires to Melbourne have been less than 300 miles away, and winds are due to make it smoky in the metropolitan area until Wednesday.
So far the ATP Cup venue in Sydney has been relatively unaffected, and overnight Tim Henman’s Great Britain team were attempting to reach the quarter finals when they played Moldova in their final group match, needing a 3-0 win to have any chance of going through as winners.
Serena Williams and Jo Konta both played their first matches since the US Open yesterday, enjoying mixed fortunes.
The American has opted to play in her favoured low-key preparatory event, the ASB Classic in Auckland, and paired up with close friend Caroline Wozniacki to beat Japan’s Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-2 6-4. Wozniacki is to retire following the Australian Open.
Konta, whose knee problems kept her out after Flushing Meadows, saw one of her worst memories of 2019 return to haunt her as she lost 6-2 3-6 6-3 to Barbora Strycova in the first round of the Brisbane International.
It was the crafty Czech who stopped her run at Wimbledon last summer, beating the British number one in the quarter finals.